LEE COUNTY, Fla.- The Medstar mess, management failures, budget shortfalls. Those are just some of the tough problems facing two, new Lee County commissioners. Larry Kiker and Cecil Pendergrass join the board next Tuesday.
"I am excited about it. I look forward to working with the board members to resolving these problems, and quickly. I have no patience for just talking about the issues for six months. We must solve them and move on," said Pendergrass, a retired police officer and now a financial planner. He will serve the last two years of Brian Bigelow's term. Bigelow is resigning after running for county clerk.
"I think we have a mandate from the voters this year, to get things managed properly, to fix the problems, and manage the county's money, the taxpayer's money, properly. That is what I take away from this election," said Larry Kiker, a businessman and former mayor of Fort Myers Beach. Kiker will serve a four-year term, after defeating commissioner Ray Judah in the Republican primary last August, and defeating a No Party Affiliation candidate in November.
Kiker says he favors a public-private partnership for Medstar, the grounded air ambulance service. That means, a company would come in and provide pilots and deal with federal regulators, while the county might provide paramedics on the chopper flights.
"I have seen some numbers that show we could save two-million dollars a year with that approach," said Kiker.
Both men say they do not believe the $5 million taxpayer grant to VR Labs was correct.
"That money for incentives was supposed to go to existing, large companies that could just come in here and provide jobs. VR was a start-up situation," said Kiker.
VR is supposed to bottle health drinks at a facility in Lee County, but it says it has been stymied by a dispute with a contractor.
The county now is trying to get an accounting of the public money from VR.
Overall, both men are optimistic about the future.
"We have some problems but we are going to solve them and move on," said Pendergrass. "I know the other commissioners and have gotten to know Larry Kiker. We get along well. I have no doubt we can work well together, to get things done."
"People want us to take care of these issues and we must show them that tomorrow is going to be a good day for the people. We still must control our over-spending and focus on the core things: getting people to work, getting better jobs here for our people, and getting tourism back to the basics," said Kiker. "I am excited because people want us to do those things, and we will work together as a board, I am confident, to do them."